Wat Phra Dhammakaya

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Memorial Hall, Phra Mongkolthepmuni
The Wat Phra Dhammakaya compound: chedi (lower left), Phra Mongkolthepmuni Memorial Hall (upper left), Great Assembly Hall (upper right)
Chedi, Wat Phra Dhammakaya

Wat Phra Dhammakaya (Thai: วัดพระธรรมกาย) is a Buddhist temple (wat) in Khlong Luang District, Pathum Thani Province north of Bangkok, Thailand. It is the centre of the Dhammakaya Movement or Dhammakāya Tradition, which was founded in 1970[1] by Phra Dhammajayo (Phrathepyanmahamuni). [2] It is part of the Mahanikaya fraternity, and follows the Vijja Dhammaka or Dhammakaya meditation which was founded by Phramongkolthepmuni in the early 20th century. It teaches the reality of an independent body (the Dhammakaya) in all human beings, which is belonged to tha path attaining Nirvana. It is legally represented by the Dhammakaya Foundation.



The Dhammakāya Movement was founded in 1970 in Thailand with the establishment by Phra Dhammajayo and Phra Dattajivo of the Dhammakaya Foundation,[2] the legal representative for the Wat Phra Dhammakaya, which was build during the 1970s and early 1980s. Phra Dhammajayo and Phra Dattajivo were students of Khun Yay Mahā Ratana Upāsikā Chandra Khonnokyoong, who in turn was a student of Phramongkolthepmuni (1885–1959), the founder of Dhammakaya meditation and the late abbot of Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen, Thonburi.

Construction of Wat Phra Dhammakaya[edit]

Ordination ceremony for new monks at Wat Phra Dhammakaya

The temple was established on Magha Puja Day, 20 February 1970, on an eight hundred acre (3,200,000 m2; 2,000 rai plot of land donated by Khunying Prayat Phaetayapongsa-visudhathibodi by a group led by Phrathepyanmahamuni and his teacher Chandra Khonnokyoong. The site, 16 kilometres north of Don Mueang International Airport, was originally called "Sun Phutthachak-patipattham" (Thai: ศูนย์พุทธจักรปฏิบัติธรรม). From acidic paddy fields, a woodland was created to be a park for meditators. Though originally the intention was simply to build a meditation center, under pressure of authorities eventually this was changed to building a temple.[3] The foundation stone for the main chapel was laid by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn on behalf of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in December 1977. It was officially recognized as a temple by the Thai government the following year[4] as "Wat Voranee Dhammakayaram", which was later changed to "Wat Phra Dhammakaya". The main chapel was completed in 1982, and the ceremony for allocating of the chapel's boundary (sima) was held three years later. During the temple's construction, the Dhammadayada ordination plan gave training to hundreds of university students, who swelled the number of residents in the temple community.


Public accusations of 1999–2002[edit]

In 1999[5][6][7] and again in 2002[8] Phrathepyanmahmuni was accused of fraud and embezzlement by the media and later the government. At that time social critic Sulak Sivaraksa criticized the Dhammakaya Movement for promoting raising fund by emphasizing donations to the temple as a way to make merit. Widespread negative media coverage at this time was symptomatic of the movement being made the scapegoat for commercial malpractice in the Thai Buddhist temple community[9][10] in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.[11][12]

The Sangha Supreme Council declared however that Wat Phra Dhammakaya had not broken any serious offenses against monastic discipline (Vinaya).[13] In 2006, The Thai National Office for Buddhism cleared Phrathepyanmahamuni of all accusations when he agreed to offer all the funds to the name of the temple.[14]

2010 accusations[edit]

Accusations that the Thai Government had financed the activities at Wat Phra Dhammakaya were made in a letter by Sulak Sivalaksa on 10 May 2010[15] but the government issued a press release on 12 May to deny the accusations.[16]

2015 fraudulent authorisations[edit]

On 29 October 2015, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) stated its investigators had found that Supachai Srisuppa-aksorn, ex-chairman of the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUK), had fraudulently authorised 878 cheques worth 11.37 billion baht, in which a portion totaling 674 million baht was traced to the Wat Phra Dhammakaya, the rest were traced to numerous other organizations. Spokespeople of Wat Phra Dhammakaya explained that Phrathepyanmahamuni was not aware that the donations were illegally obtained because Srisuppa-aksorn told the temple he ran several successful businesses, and the temple lacks the means to check for illegally obtained money.[17][18] Once the donations were revealed to be linked to embezzlement accusations, supporters of the temple raised the 674 million baht linked to Wat Phra Dhammakaya to donate to the KCUC to keep it from becoming insolvent. The credit union then dropped all complaints and issued a letter of appreciation to the temple, after which the court dropped the case. Regardless, the DSI has submitted the case to public prosecutors to decide whether to file charges.[18][19][20] The DSI itself has seen its political neutrality questioned however, even by leading people within the department itself[21] and other departments of the Thai justice system have come out to state that DSI has not been handling the investigation well with proper legal procedure.[22][23]

Present activities[edit]

Under the leadership of president Phrathepyanmahamuni (Luang Phaw Dhammajayo, b.1944), the image of the Dhammakāya Foundation has made a recovery, and in 2004-5 had received further recognition for its contribution to world peace from organizations such as the World Health Organization, the Thai Senate, and several peoples' associations in the South of Thailand.[citation needed] The Dhammakaya Movement continues to influence millions of people in Thailand and worldwide to practice Dhammakaya meditation.[citation needed] The movement has set up Dhammakaya Open University in Azusa, California in 2003 to offer degree courses in Buddhist studies.[citation needed] It has also encouraged Thais to quit drinking and smoking through the activities of anti-drinking and anti-smoking programs. World Health Organization (WHO) presented the 2004 World No Tobacco Day Award for this work on 31 May 2004[24]

The movement has expanded branches to over eighteen countries worldwide and is promoted via a Buddhist satellite network or Dhamma Media Channel (DMC.TV) with 24-hour-a-day Dharma and meditation teachings broadcast to worldwide.[citation needed]

On March 31, 2014, Dhammayaka Foundation held alms offering to the abbots or the representatives of 323 temples in the four southern provinces of Thailand. This kind of event has constantly been held for 10 years. And this is the 100th alms offering to the temples in the four southern provinces.[25]

The community living at Wat Phra Dhammakaya nowTemplate:Exact date? numbers 3,000 monks, novices, and laypersons, making it the most populous temple in Thailand. Congregations on Sundays and major religious holidays reach 100,000, which since 1985 has exceeded temple capacity and prompted the decision to expand the site to 1,000 acres (4 km2) and the building of the World Dhammakaya Centre. The temple is known for its emphasis on meditation, especially samatha meditation. Its teaching of samatha meditation has been described as a revival in Thailand.[26] The temple has organized a World Peace Ethics Contest in which schools all over Thailand and even some schools abroad compete in their knowledge of Buddhist ethics. Later on, the temple extended its youth activities to include a training course in Buddhist practice known as V-star, and a national day of Buddhist activities known as V-star day. Aside from religious activity, the temple has granted financial aid and supplies to schools and temples in southern Thailand, presently the scene of political and religious conflict.[27] In June 2016, the temple had more than hundred branch temples and centers in different parts of the world.[28] The temple also has its own satellite channel known as Dhammakaya Media Channel (DMC),[29] and an open university.[30]

Temple layout[edit]

The 320 hectare temple grounds contain roughly 150 buildings. Several buildings are off-limits to all but the most senior temple insiders.[31]

  • Main Chapel: Unusual in a Buddhist temple building in Thailand, the chapel is characterized by clean lines and simplicity.[32][33] The building was awarded an Honourable Mention in the Association of Siamese Architects (ASA) awards in 1998.[34]
  • Dhammakaya Cetiya (stupa) and Ceremonial Grounds: This large open area "...can accommodate hundreds of thousands of worshippers."[35] At the center of the open area is a dome-shaped cetiya (stupa). The area is a large venue for mass meditation and prayers for Buddhists and others. The exterior that holds the 300,000 personal Buddha images on the hemispherical dome and the terraces of the Dhammakaya Cetiya are cladded in silicon bronze which is frequently used for submarine propellers due to its its strength and chemical resistance.[36]
  • Administrative Centre (Sapha Dhammakaya Assembly Hall): Can accommodate 150,000 persons.[37]
  • Daowadung Building: The residence of Phrathepyanmahamuni.

World Dhammakaya Centre[edit]

The World Dhammakaya Centre (WDC) is an extension of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, which was started in 1985 by Phrathepyanmahamuni and Khun Yay Mahā Ratana Upāsikā Chandra Khonnokyoong. The centre covers 1000 acres (4 km²).

In the area there are six main landmarks.[38]

  • The Memorial Hall of Phramonkolthepmuni: This circular domed building was built in 2002 in honour of the revered monk Phramongkolthepmuni, the founder of the Dhammakaya Movement. At present it houses an exhibition and a golden statue of that monk. The building is open to visitors and pilgrims.[39]
  • The Great Sapha Dhammakaya Hall: This hangar-like construction built in 1997 is a multi-functional two-storey building is used for meditation, Buddhist lectures and ceremonies, youth training courses and monastic conferences. The upper level has been designed to accommodate 150,000 people and the lower level is used primarily for parking but can be used as seating capacity for an additional 150,000 people if necessary.[40]
  • The Dhammakaya Cetiya: The Dhammakaya Cetiya is a symbol of world peace through inner peace. Built entirely on international public contributions, it is also the embodiment of unity and love for mankind. The dome-shaped Chaitya (stupa) is the hallmark of what has become the largest venue for mass meditation and prayers for Buddhists and peace-loving people of the world.[41]
  • The Grand Meditation Amphitheatre: The Grand Meditation Amphitheatre is the name of a two-storey cloister built to accommodate monks, novices and peace-loving people from around the world to meditate and pray for the happiness of fellow human beings regardless of race, nationality, faith and religion.[42]
  • The Dining Hall of Khun yay Archaraya Chandra Khonnokyoong: Named after the founder of the Dhammakaya Temple, the Dining Hall of Khun Yay can seat up to 6,000 monks. Everyday, lay people come to enjoy offering food and refreshments to more than 1,200 monks and novices who reside at this temple.[43]
  • The Memorial Hall of Khun Yay Archaraya Chandra Khonnokyoong: This hexagonal pyramid-shaped chapel was built in 2002. It is made of gold-tinted plate glass. It is a two-storey structure. The lower floor is a museum with an exhibition telling the biography of Khun Yay Maha Ratana Upasika Chandra Khonnokyoong, the nun who founded Wat Phra Dhammakaya. The upper floor houses a golden image of the nun.[44]

Identifying features as a religious movement[edit]

Revivalist school[edit]

The Dhammakaya tradition formally belongs to the ancient Maha Nikaya tradition of Thai Theravada Buddhism,[45] being correctly regarded as revivalist rather than a new movement or a fundamentalist movement.[46][47] It supposedly has many doctrinal elements to distinguish it from conventional Theravāda Buddhism.[citation needed]

The Dhammakāya school of meditation is marked by its literal interpretation of Buddhist technical terms, (including the term dhammakāya) in their physical meaning, as described by Phramongkolthepmuni. Many sermons of Phramongkolthepmuni himself can be traced back to some schools of meditation in Southeast Asia preserved only in ancient meditation manuals.

Some of the Thai meditation masters who teach of a true Self (Dhammakaya), of which they claim meditative experience, are highly revered and even worshipped as arhats and Bodhisattvas by members of the Thai Buddhist populace.[48]

True Self[edit]

According to the Dhammakaya Movement, the Buddha made the discovery that nirvana is nothing less than the attā [the true Self]'.[49] According to Paul Williams, in some respects the teachings of the Dhammakaya Movement resemble the Buddha-nature and Trikaya doctrines of Mahāyāna Buddhism.[50] Williams sees the Dhammakaya Movement of Thailand as having developed independently of the Mahayana tathāgatagarbha tradition but as achieving some remarkably similar results in their understanding of Buddhism.[51] According to Paul Williams,

[Dhammakaya] meditations involve the realization, when the mind reaches its purest state, of an unconditioned “Dhamma Body” (dhammakaya) in the form of a luminous, radiant and clear Buddha figure free of all defilements and situated within the body of the meditator. Nirvana is the true Self, and this is also the dhammakaya.[52]

The bulk of Thai Theravāda Buddhism rejects this teaching and insists upon non-self as a universal fact. As against this, Phra Thepyanmonkol of the Dhammakaya Movement (which does not see itself as Mahāyānist but as modern Theravāda) argues that it tends to be scholars who hold the view of absolute non-self, rather than Buddhist meditators. Also, according to him, only the compounded and conditioned is non-self - not nirvana. Williams summarises Phra Thepyanmonkol’s views, and adds his own comment at the end:

[Scholars] incline towards a not-Self perspective. But only scholars hold that view. By way of contrast, Phra Thepyanmonkol mentions in particular the realizations of several distinguished forest hermit monks. Moreover, he argues, impermanence, suffering and not-Self go together. Anything which is not-Self is also impermanent and suffering. But, it is argued, nirvana is not suffering, nor is it impermanent. It is not possible to have something which is permanent, not suffering (i.e. is happiness) and yet for it still to be not-Self. Hence it is not not-Self either. It is thus (true, or transcendental) Self … These ways of reading Buddhism in terms of a true Self certainly seem to have been congenial in the East Asian environment, and hence flourished in that context where for complex reasons Mahayana too found a ready home.[53]


Wat Phra Dhammakaya received the "Best Meditation Center Award 2013" from the National Office of Buddhism. The award was presented on 11 March 2014 at Wat Phichaiyatikaram, Klong Sam District, Bangkok.[citation needed]

Documentary film[edit]

In July 2014, filming began on a documentary entitled White Lotus, which follows the journey of a Westerner who temporarily ordains as a monk at Wat Phra Dhammakaya. Directed by Somchay Phakonkham, it is the first documentary film to be filmed at the temple.[54]


  1. ^ Melton & Baumann 2010, p. 885.
  2. ^ a b Swearer 1995, p. 114.
  3. ^ Mackenzie, Rory (2007). New Buddhist Movements in Thailand: Towards an understanding of Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Santi Asoke. Abingdon: Routledge. p. 34. ISBN 0-203-96646-5. 
  4. ^ Swearer, D. K. (1991) Fundamentalistic Movements in Theravada Buddhism, in: M. E. Marty & R. S. Appleby (Eds) Fundamentalisms Observed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p.656.
  5. ^ Asiaweek 17 September 1999
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  18. ^ a b http://www.dhammakayauncovered.com/home/2016/4/21/a-perspective-on-the-klongchan-credit-union-cooperative-case
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  45. ^ Swearer, D. K. (1991) Fundemantalistic Movements in Theravada Buddhism, in: M. E. Marty & R. S. Appleby (Eds) Fundamentalisms Observed (Chicago & London, University of Chicago Press), p.656
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  • Melton, J. Gordon; Baumann, Martin, eds. (2010), Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices, 2nd Edition, ABC-CLIO 
  • Swearer, Donald K. (1995), The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia, SUNY Press 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bowers, Jeffery (1996). Dhammakaya Meditation in Thai Society. Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University Press.
  • Laohavanich, Mano Mettanando (2002). Esoteric Teaching of Wat Phra Dhammakāya, Journal of Buddhist Ethics 19, pp. 483–513, ISSN 1076-9005.
  • Mackenzie, Rory (2007), New Buddhist Movements in Thailand: Towards an Understanding of Wat Phra Dhammakāya and Santi Asoke, Oxon: Routledge.
  • McCargo, Duncan (1999), ‘The politics of Buddhism in Southeast Asia’, in Jeff Haynes (ed.), Religion, globalization and the political culture in the Third World, Basingstoke: Macmillan, pp. 213–39.
  • Rahonyi, Reka (1996), Wat Phra Dhammakaya: "A Refuge in the Midst of a Turbulent World" - Analysis of a Contemporary Thai Buddhist Movement, Senior Thesis, Harvard University.
  • Scott, Rachelle M. (2009). Nirvana for Sale? Buddhism, Wealth, and the Dhammakāya Temple in Contemporary Thailand. State University of New York Press, Albany
  • Scott, Rachelle M (2014). Merit and the Search for Inner Peace: The Discourses and Technologies of Dhammakaya Proselytization. In Rosalind I. J. Hackett (ed), Proselytization Revisited: Rights Talk, Free Markets and Culture Wars. Routledge. pp. 231–252. ISBN 978-1-317-49109-5. 
  • Seeger, Martin (2006). Die thailändische Wat Phra Thammakai-Bewegung. In: Buddhismus in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Band 9: Erneuerungsbewegungen, Asien-Afrika Institut, Universität Hamburg, pp. 121–139.
  • Zehner, Edwin (1990). Reform Symbolism of a Thai Middle-Class Sect: The Growth and Appeal of the Thammakai Movement. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 21 (2), 402-426

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 14°04′23.37″N 100°38′47.01″E / 14.0731583°N 100.6463917°E / 14.0731583; 100.6463917